The following insights were gained as the result of events that followed the publication of an ad in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Positions and Situations section. Although I don't wish to give any details of my experience, I'd like to offer a few thoughts for the consideration of others who are getting together by correspondence over long distances.
It seems to me that the use of "contact" services such as P & S has created some novel social situations. We've all heard of "mail-order brides", of course, but in this case many more people are involved . . . with whole families and even communities meeting others from across the continent.
I've done some thinking about the consequences of such meetings seeking homestead jobs or joint land ownership situations, and — although the choice of words may be awkward — I like to describe the relationships thus formed as "inorganic" . . . as compared to the "organic" interactions of normal life.
Here's what I mean: People usually encounter one another by a natural coming together of some sort . . . in classrooms or bars, at dances, in the park. If they're mutually attracted for whatever reason, they can plan to meet again (and if not, the subject just doesn't come up). Each subsequent meeting then happens in a non–pressured way. There's no great need for those concerned to decide whether they're going to be friends forever, or whether they'll be able to flow together on all levels. They can just sit back, make overtures, see one another as often as they like, and gradually become close . . . or drift apart.
Meetings arranged through a contact service, however, are another matter entirely. The crucial difference is that the ads which lead to such encounters are normally placed because of need . . . in some cases urgent need, or there'd have been no resort to advertising in the first place. The notices that appear in P & S are there because the writers must have help on their homesteads, or hope to find land, or are looking for families to share their acreage . . . and whatever it is that such folks want, they very often want it right now. The degree of desperation can range from none to acute, but just the fact that an ad was placed imposes a degree of stress on advertiser and respondents that wouldn't operate in an organic relationship.
Here's the sort of pattern that can result: The advertisers receive various responses, weed out the many that don't interest them, and continue to correspond with the one or two families or groups who seem most promising. The parties then exchange many, many letters telling all about themselves, their dreams, and their plans. Both sides may feel so hopeful and excited about the relationship (this has to work!) that they unconsciously stress their compatibilities and similarities Thus, by the time they agree to meet, each group has imposed on the other the burden of possibly being The Ones.
The meeting may go off beautifully, with everyone smiling, and being shy and nervous, and the little doubts seem so pets compared to the immensity of the situation. Both sides hope to become self-sufficient . . . love strawberries and goats … want to feel free. All the abstracts and particulars seem ti match, and the one bunch has to get out of the city now, and ( the other needs to sell some of the land now … and the sense of desperation forces a quicker decision than would have beef necessary if the parties had met at a friend's home in the natural way. So the deal is made.
Well, the groups get together, and the arrangement may work fine at the start . . . but perhaps one side or the other has had some secret misgivings all along, and these grow very rapidly during the new period of increased contact.
One source of strong disagreement, I've found, is in the area of adults' overall, day-to-day relations with children. I feel that how a parent or other grown person deals with youngsters is a microcosm of how he or she deals with other people, with animals, with the earth and the environment. This is the point about which we get defensive the fastest, if the differences are too great, and the one that seems to cause the most splits between otherwise compatible folks. It's a much more important issue than nudity, vegetarianism, eating habits, and all the rest.
My experience of such problems has convinced me that P & S is an unnatural — though often useful — means of bringing people together . . . no matter how well matched the parties may seem from checklists and computer questionnaires and just plain letters and brief visits. If those concerned live too far apart for frequent meetings before the decision or move is made, it's dangerous to plan on long-term compatibility on the basis of some beautiful correspondence and a week's shared vacation (especially since vacationing isn't the normal state of things on a farm). When the slow, gradual growth of a relationship isn't possible, and when lifelong decisions are necessary, mere impressions are — at best — a pretty risky basis for a partnership.
In conclusion, I'd advise those who are considering any kind of joint land ownership to read Les Scher's recommendations reprinted in MOTHER EARTH NEWS NO. 30. The precise written agreements he describes may save you a lot of suffering.
To paraphrase what Winston Churchill once said about democracy, Lynne, "Trying to meet kindred souls through P & S is an absolutely horrible way to go about accomplishing the task . . . but it's still better than anything else that anybody has so far come up with."
It's an imperfect world, Lynne, and I can only hope that we'll all eventually get settled into the sections of the country where each one of us can individually feel most at home. And then we can all make those social contacts down at the local square dance the way you (and most of us) would prefer. Until then . . . use P & S, but use it with discretion. And don't ever, ever let yourself be rushed into making a decision that you'll have to live with for months or years. — MOTHER